Social Justice Grows on Clagett Farm

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For 20 years the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Clagett Farm has provided free, fresh produce to people living in poverty and near-poverty in Washington, D.C. The project, a collaboration with Capital Area Food Bank, blends local, sustainable organic agriculture with social justice. CBF calls the program, "From the Ground Up."

Feeding the Hungry

Here's how it works.

Customers of Clagett's community supported agriculture (CSA) program buy shares of the farm's harvest beforehand, and collect whatever is in season weekly, from salad greens in early May through winter squash in November. Regular customers pay a rate that covers enough program expenses to allow the farm to donate 40-50 percent of its annual production to low-income people through the Food Bank. That's about 35,000 pounds of produce a year on average.

Participants can pick up their shares either at an appointed place and time within the District or at the farm in Upper Marlboro, which is only 14 miles east of the U.S. Capitol Building, just off the Capital Beltway. In addition, the CSA offers reduced-price shares and work shares to low-income families. An extensive group of volunteer weeders and pickers helps to keep the program's operating costs low.

The result is that people of all income levels in the Washington, D.C. region can receive top-quality vegetables and fruits from this local farm, while helping to support an extraordinarily effective and efficient food bank that speaks to the needs of people around our Nation's Capital.

Therein lies the second half of the "From the Ground Up" story. The Food Bank carefully selects recipient member agencies—food pantries, clinics, after-school programs, soup kitchens, and shelters—with the organizational strength and the facilities to maintain quality and efficiently distribute a broad range of produce to its clients.  For 2012, there are nine participating agencies in the District, suburban Maryland, and Northern Virginia. 

Feeding the Soul

The Food Bank also offers a wide variety of educational programs. Some of these programs are in the form of classes and demonstrations, including getting D.C. kids out to Clagett for actual harvesting and other farm fun.

Recently seen at Clagett: children from the city ride a hay wagon, arrive at a farm field, and spread out excitedly to pick sweet corn, okra, and tomatoes under the careful supervision of Carrie Vaughn, Clagett Farm's Vegetable Production Manager. She shows them how to pick the produce respectfully. They bring their prizes back to the wagon in bins and head to the farm's washing station to clean them for transport to the Food Bank.

An important element of the CBF/Farm Bank collaboration is an orientation day for participating agencies at Clagett with Carrie Vaughn, her husband, Rob Vaughn, who serves as Assistant Farm Manager, and Michael Heller, Clagett's Manager for the past thirty years. The following excerpted letter, addressed to Food Bank staffer Dylan Menguy, demonstrates the value of this orientation:

"I left the farm with a wealth of information, and I felt empowered to educate my staff and community on the miracles occurring at Clagett Farm. I know that if I had not taken the time to go to the Clagett Farm orientation, I would have missed a great opportunity to learn about the great works of the farm.

Thank you. I am grateful for the opportunity."

Gwen Pope Manager
SHABACH! Emergency Empowerment Center
2101 Kent Village Drive
Landover, Maryland 20785

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